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Penn State Football: 12 Scholarship Athletes Commit to Nittany Lions on National Signing Day

by on February 05, 2013 6:48 AM

Editor's Note: Names in bold type indicate the prospect has signed his letter of intent.

National Signing Day.

For some of the nation's top high school football talent, it's a day that signifies the end of a process and the start of a journey. Recruits will turn into household names, others won't pan out, but for all, the opportunity to positively affect a college football program makes Wednesday a special day for every recruit involved.

Penn State heads into Signing Day looking to solidify a class more than a year in the making. From Christian Hackenberg, one of the nation's premiere high school quarterbacks, to a growing list of Bill O'Brien-coined "run-ons," Penn State's 2013 recruiting class will likely carry the greatest load through Penn State's time under NCAA sanctions. 

Stars, ratings and projections have carried these recruits this far, but now the rubber hits the road. Here is a look at Penn State's 2013 recruiting class on the eve of Signing Day.

The Basics

Where they are from:

  • Pennsylvania (5) 
  • Virginia (3)
  • New Jersey (3)
  • Maryland (1)
  • Alabama (1)
  • Florida (1)
  • Georgia (1)
  • California (1)
  • Washington DC (1)

What it means: The Nittany Lions recruiting base has gone to uncharted territory this year, actively staking out a claim in the deep south and coming back with three recruits, the largest haul from the region in more than a decade. As expected, Penn State dominated traditional recruiting areas, pulling the majority of the class out of the Nittany Lions' bread and butter zones.

"We've got to do a great job in that 300- 400-mile radius of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New England. Really the majority of our roster should come from there," O'Brien said last year "Then what we want to do is use our connections where we've coached, maybe Georgia, Florida, Alabama, to try to get some guys that we think fit at Penn State and are willing to make the travel; the parents are willing to travel."

Penn State might lose a bit of an edge in southern ties after the departure of defensive coordinator Ted Roof, but he isn't the only coach with regional knowledge.

Position Breakdown

  • Offense (8)
  • Defense (9)

Quarterbacks

  • Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union, Va.

What it means: One of the first commits in the class, Hackenberg stuck with Penn State through the announcement of sanctions and the uneasy hours of the O'Brien-NFL coaching search rumor mill. Landing a top-tier quarterback in the class not only gives Penn State a quality signal caller, but it helps maintain the image of Happy Valley being a destination of choice, even with a bowl ban. The key now will be surrounding Hackenberg with talent that can showcase his ability. 

Hackenberg talked to ESPN earlier Monday about his Signing Day plans.

"I'll probably just be sitting there with my parents," Hackenberg said. "I'll probably have one hat on, a Penn State hat and get it over with. It has been a long ride, so I'm really looking forward to that."

Wide Receiver 

  • DaeSean Hamilton, Stafford, Va.

What it means: With a fairly full stable of receivers already in place, Hamilton adds another capable set of paws to the roster. Hamilton finished his senior season with 64 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns but missed the final game of his senior season with a broken collarbone.

Offensive Line

  • Andrew Nelson (Tackle), Hershey, Pa.
  • Brendan Mahon (Guard), Randolph, N.J.
  • Tanner Hartman (Guard), Lynchburg, Va.

What it means: All around 6-foot-5 and ranging from 255 to 300 pounds, the trio of offensive linemen will learn under the likes of guard John Urschel before taking over the duties of keeping Hackenberg and Co. safe. Mahon was the fourth commit in the class, tabbing Penn State back in March, and has been another cheerleader for the Nittany Lions' recruiting efforts.

Defensive Ends

  • Garrett Sickels, Little Silver, N.J.
  • Curtis Cothran, Newtown, Pa.
  • Parker Cothren, Hazel Green, Ala.

What it means: Sickels was the second in the class to give O'Brien his commitment and has been one of the top defensive ends in the nation. All three will learn from Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes, who exploded onto the scene last year. Penn State has quietly put together several consecutive years of top-notch defensive end play, and all three look to continue that growing tradition. 

Linebackers

  • Zayd Issah (OLB), Harrisburg, Pa.
  • Brandon Bell (MLB), Mays Landing, N.J.

What it means: After de-committing from Penn State early on, Issah couldn't resist Penn State in the end, giving the Nittany Lions one of the best defensive players in the state. Issah recorded 123 tackles, 14 sacks, one interception, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries as a senior en route to being named the Co-Player of the Year in Class AAAA. Brandon Bell is no slouch himself, picking up offers from more than 10 different schools from around the nation.

Defensive Backs

  • Kasey Gaines, Loganville, Ga.
  • Neiko Robinson, Century, Fla.

What it means: The Nittany Lions struggled with depth issues in the secondary and these two defensive backs (including two early enrollees listed later) will look to give defensive coordinator John Butler plenty of speed and depth in Penn State's last line of defense. Robinson and Gaines are two of the Nittany Lions' southern products. Gaines registered a 4.50 40-yard dash while Robinson has been given praise for reading plays and closing quickly on receivers. Both will benefit in time with Penn State strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, as few have come out of Fitz's weight room without having reaped the benefits.  

Early Enrollees (Not signing letter of intent)

Quarterback:

  • Tyler Ferguson, Visalia, Calif. (Junior College)

Defensive Backs

  • Jordan Smith, Washington, D.C.
  • Anthony Smith, Wayne, Pa.

Tight End

  • Adam Breneman, Camp Hill, Pa.

Running Back:

  • Richy Anderson,  Frederick, Md.

What it means: Under NCAA rules, early enrollees do not count toward the incoming recruiting class. As Penn State faced the first season with scholarship restrictions, these five players enrolled early as 2013 commits without counting toward the 2013 class limit of 15 scholarships. Junior college-transfer Tyler Ferguson gives Penn State depth at quarterback, joining sophomore Steven Bench as the only other scholarship quarterback in the spring. Hackenberg isn't slated to join the Nittany Lions until the summer.

O'Brien was able to reel in a few run-on (walk-on) quarterbacks, but Ferguson and Bench will likely be the primary focus in the early going. That being said, O'Brien's ability to transform former walk-on Matt McGloin means anybody is fair game to take snaps under center.

Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith both joined Penn State early and will get a jump on the defensive playbook in return. Both will likely have a chance to beef up the secondary and contribute on special teams in the early going.

Breneman's importance to the 2013 recruiting class is far too important to fall so far down in this summation. The tight end was rated the best in the nation prior to tearing his ACL during a summer game. With the emergence of the likes of Kyle Carter and Jesse James under O'Brien, the depth of Penn State's tight end position is almost limitless. It's quite possible that Breneman will end up redshirting to get a year of healing under his belt as well as helping Penn State spread out its tight end talent over several years. Breneman is already a fan favorite for being a cheerleader for Penn State on social media, and it's very likely he'll give them a reason to cheer whenever he hits the field.

Run-Ons 

QB: Austin Whipple, Salisbury, Conn. - *Early Enrollee
QB: DJ Crook, Worchester, Mass. - *Early Enrollee
QB: Jack Seymour, Indianapolis, Ind.
RB: Brian Tomasetti, Scranton, Pa.
RB: Cole Chiappialle, Beaver Falls, Pa.
RB: Von Walker, Mill Hall, Pa.
OL: Tom Devenney, Lititz, Pa.
OL: Austin Fiedler, Turbotville, Pa.
WR: Gregg Garrity, Wexford, Pa.
DT: Evan Galimberti, State College, Pa.
LB: Brandon Smith, Lewisburg, Pa.
LB: Kyle Searfoss, Lewisberry, Pa.
LB: Carter Henderson, Beaver Falls, Pa.
DB: Tom Pancoast, Kennett Square, Pa.
DB: Dad Poquie, Wyndmoor, Pa.
K/P: Chris Gulla, Toms River, N.J.
Ath: Chris Geiss, Malvern, Pa.
Ath: Adam Geiger,Camp Hill, Pa.
Ath: Brock Baranowski,Pittsburgh, Pa.
LS: Sean Corcoran, Bourbonnais, Ill.

*Complete run-on list courtesy of FightOnState.com

What it means: While under scholarship restrictions, the ability to find talent willing to "run-on" at Penn State will be at a premium. While the players listed above have all agreed to join Penn State while paying their own way, they will not sign letters of intent which bind them to the university in exchange for a scholarship. Because they are not bound, some of these players could very well turn Penn State's interest into more scholarship money from FCS or Division II-level schools. Quarterbacks Austin Whipple and DJ Crook have both enrolled early and will be in the mix as spring goes along.

Much like McGloin, the true value of these "run-on" players may not be fully known until a coaching staff has had time to work with them. A program such as Nebraska has made a name for itself by turning walk-on talent into top-tier performers, so it is far from an unreasonable expectation that O'Brien will be able to do the same with at least some of these athletes.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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